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For CTOs: 5 Strategies to get buy-in from your organization for information security
There’s a famous quote from Albert Einstein: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” That’s often true in information security. It’s a topic that most people don’t think much about until they learn enough to realize how at-risk their data may be. As a CTO, you have enough knowledge to realize that information security needs to be a high priority for your organization.
The tricky part is finding a way to express the importance to the rest of your organization in order to get buy-in for security strategies and protocols. Most of your colleagues, from production employees to executive leaders, don’t yet know enough about data security to understand the risks and dangers of overlooking it.
While every circumstance is unique, there are plenty of ways to express the importance of information security and get buy-in from leaders and employees in your organization. Start with these five strategies:
1. Lay out the dollars and cents
Money talks, as they say, especially when it comes to making decisions for a business. Chances are the financial leaders in your organization just don’t realize how much money is at stake if their information security is lax.
That’s why they need you to explain it to them. Present clearly the potential costs of letting your data security fall by the wayside.
Be sure to include all the probable costs. For example:
- Fines and fees associated with not complying with in-demand security standards like ISO 27001, SOC 2, and, depending on your industry and your business, HIPAA and PCI DSS
- Cost of a data breach, which varies significantly but was calculated to be about $4.24 million in 2021 on average
- Expected loss of customers or clients as a result of a data breach that loses those customers’ trust
- Drop in stock price if your organization is publicly traded
- Loss of new business opportunities due to a lack of trust from potential business partners
When people recognize just how much money and stability is at risk because of poor security, they are more likely to understand the importance of making security a priority. This is particularly true for any leaders that focus on the financial aspects of the business, like your CEO and CFO, but it doesn’t hurt for employees to also understand that the organization’s stability (and all of their jobs along with it) is at stake.
2. Host knowledge sharing sessions
Ultimately, knowledge of information security and its importance is the chief factor that will convince your colleagues to get on board with strengthening your data security. You don’t just want them to know the risks; you want them to have a basic understanding of how information security works too.
People are much more likely to buy into security projects if they can conceptualize the projects because they have a basic familiarity with data security. If they’re largely blind to the topic and you’re asking them to say yay or nay, it’s more likely to be a nay because they don’t have a picture of what you want to accomplish or how it will help. Something as simple as a short seminar series or lunch-and-learn series can help to educate leaders and employees alike.
3. Offer up a clear plan
Every project is more intimidating if it has a lot of question marks and unknown variables. You probably wouldn’t agree to a home improvement project if your contractor had no idea of the potential cost or timeline, and your organization’s leaders will react the same way if you present them with a vague description of security protocols you want to implement.
If you want to get buy-in for a security project, have a clear plan for how the project will play out. Include practical steps to make the project run as smoothly and predictably as possible. For example, start by using automation software to scan your system for compliance with select security standards so you have a clear picture of what still needs to be done to reach compliance.
4. Advocate to earmark security funds in the annual budget
Each organization operates differently, so you may have a large role to play in establishing your organization’s annual budget or you may get minimal consideration. In any case, advocate however you can to earmark funds in the budget specifically for information security.
This is a good time to outline all those potential costs and risks we discussed earlier so you can show your colleagues that security is an investment, not just an expense. Once there is money earmarked in the budget for security, it will be far easier for you to get buy-in for projects like hiring security specialists, performing audits, updating security software, and so on, because the money is already there.
5. Perform vulnerability testing
Leaders and employees have a tendency to assume their organization is more protected against data breaches than it is. It’s the “It won’t happen to me” fallacy. The only way to overcome this is to prove them wrong.
Perform testing designed to fake an attack or breach attempt to see how your organization handles it. This could be social engineering testing or penetration testing, but remember that hackers can use a wide variety of social and digital strategies to get access to your data, so ideally, you should perform several types of tests.
In any case, make sure you get a clear report of how your organization performed and how much information the testers were able to access so you can show your leaders clearly that your security needs attention.
Getting buy-in from your organization for information security
As a CTO, you have the knowledge to understand the importance of data security, and the rest of your organization is relying on you to advocate for the cause as you see fit. Your colleagues don’t realize how much they don’t know about information security, but with the strategies above, you can bring them up to speed and get their buy-in for the security projects you need.
Learn more about information security
Determine whether the GDPR applies to you and if so, if you are a processor or controller (or both)
Do you sell goods or service in the EU or UK?
Do you sell goods or services to EU businesses, consumers, or both?
Do you have employees in the EU or UK?
Do persons from the EU or UK visit your website?
Do you monitor the behavior of persons within the EU?
Create a Data Map by taking the following actions
Identify and document every system (i.e. database, application, or vendor) which stores or processes EU or UK based personally identifiable information (PII)
Document the retention periods for PII in each system
Determine whether you collect, store, or process “special categories” of data
Determine whether your Data Map meets the requirements for Records of Processing Activities (Art. 30)
Determine whether your Data Map includes the following information about processing activities carried out by vendors on your behalf
Determine your grounds for processing data
For each category of data and system/application have you determined the lawful basis for processing based on one of the following conditions?
Take inventory of current customer and vendor contracts to confirm new GDPR-required flow-down provisions are included
Review all customer contracts to determine that they have appropriate contract language (i.e. Data Protection Addendums with Standard Contractual Clauses)
Review all in-scope vendor contracts to determine that they have appropriate contract language (i.e. Data Protection Addendums with Standard Contractual Clauses)
Have you performed a risk assessment on vendors who are processing your PII?
Determine if you need to do a Data Protection Impact Assessment
Is your data processing taking into account the nature, scope, context, and purposes of the processing, likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons?
Review product and service design (including your website or app) to ensure privacy notice links, marketing consents, and other requirements are integrated
Does the notice to the data subject include the following items?
Does the notice also include the following items?
Do you have a mechanism for persons to change or withdraw consent?
Update internal privacy policies to comply with notification obligations
Update internal privacy notices for EU employees
Determine if you need to appoint a Data Protection Officer, and appoint one if needed
Have you determined whether or not you must designate a Data Protection Officer (DPO) based on one of the following conditions (Art. 37)?
If you export data from the EU, consider if you need a compliance mechanism to cover the data transfer, such as model clauses
If you transfer, store, or process data outside the EU or UK, have you identified your legal basis for the data transfer (note: most likely covered by the Standard Contractual Clauses)
Have you performed and documented a Transfer Impact Assessment (TIA)?
Confirm you are complying with other data subject rights (i.e. aside from notification)
Do you have a defined process for timely response to Data Subject Access Requests (DSAR) (i.e. requests for information, modification or deletion of PII)?
Are you able to provide the subject information in a concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language?
Do you have a process for correcting or deleting data when requested?
Do you have an internal policy regarding a Compelled Disclosure from Law Enforcement?
Determine if you need to appoint an EU-based representative, and appoint one if needed
Have you appointed an EU Representative or determined that an EU Representative is not needed based on one of the following conditions?
If operating in more than one EU state, identify a lead Data Protection Authority (DPA)
Do you operate in more than one EU state?
If so, have you designated the Supervisory Authority of the main establishment to act as your Lead Supervisory Authority?
Implement Employee Trainings to Demonstrate Compliance with GDPR Principles and Data Subject Rights
Have you provided appropriate Security Awareness and Privacy training to your staff?
Update internal procedures and policies to ensure you can comply with data breach response requirements
Have you created and implemented an Incident Response Plan which included procedures for reporting a breach to EU and UK Data Subjects as well as appropriate Data Authorities?
Do breach reporting policies comply with all prescribed timelines and include all recipients i.e. authorities, controllers, and data subjects?
Implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk
Have you implemented encryption of PII at rest and in transit?
Have you implemented pseudonymization?
Have you implemented appropriate physical security controls?
Have you implemented information security policies and procedures?
Can you access EU or UK PII data in the clear?
Do your technical and organizational measure ensure that, by default, only personal data which are necessary for each specific purpose of the processing are processed?
Develop a roadmap for successful implementation of an ISMS and ISO 27001 certification
Implement Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) process to recognize challenges and identify gaps for remediation
Consider ISO 27001 certification costs relative to org size and number of employees
Clearly define scope of work to plan certification time to completion
Select an ISO 27001 auditor
Set the scope of your organization’s ISMS
Decide which business areas are covered by the ISMS and which are out of scope
Consider additional security controls for business processes that are required to pass ISMS-protected information across the trust boundary
Inform stakeholders regarding scope of the ISMS
Establish an ISMS governing body
Build a governance team with management oversight
Incorporate key members of top management, e.g. senior leadership and executive management with responsibility for strategy and resource allocation
Conduct an inventory of information assets
Consider all assets where information is stored, processed, and accessible
- Record information assets: data and people
- Record physical assets: laptops, servers, and physical building locations
- Record intangible assets: intellectual property, brand, and reputation
Assign to each asset a classification and owner responsible for ensuring the asset is appropriately inventoried, classified, protected, and handled
Execute a risk assessment
Establish and document a risk-management framework to ensure consistency
Identify scenarios in which information, systems, or services could be compromised
Determine likelihood or frequency with which these scenarios could occur
Evaluate potential impact of each scenario on confidentiality, integrity, or availability of information, systems, and services
Rank risk scenarios based on overall risk to the organization’s objectives
Develop a risk register
Record and manage your organization’s risks
Summarize each identified risk
Indicate the impact and likelihood of each risk
Document a risk treatment plan
Design a response for each risk (Risk Treatment)
Assign an accountable owner to each identified risk
Assign risk mitigation activity owners
Establish target dates for completion of risk treatment activities
Complete the Statement of Applicability worksheet
Review 114 controls of Annex A of ISO 27001 standard
Select controls to address identified risks
Complete the Statement of Applicability listing all Annex A controls, justifying inclusion or exclusion of each control in the ISMS implementation
Continuously assess and manage risk
Build a framework for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving the ISMS
Include information or references to supporting documentation regarding:
- Information Security Objectives
- Leadership and Commitment
- Roles, Responsibilities, and Authorities
- Approach to Assessing and Treating Risk
- Control of Documented Information
- Internal Audit
- Management Review
- Corrective Action and Continual Improvement
- Policy Violations
Assemble required documents and records
Review ISO 27001 Required Documents and Records list
Customize policy templates with organization-specific policies, process, and language
Establish employee training and awareness programs
Conduct regular trainings to ensure awareness of new policies and procedures
Define expectations for personnel regarding their role in ISMS maintenance
Train personnel on common threats facing your organization and how to respond
Establish disciplinary or sanctions policies or processes for personnel found out of compliance with information security requirements
Perform an internal audit
Allocate internal resources with necessary competencies who are independent of ISMS development and maintenance, or engage an independent third party
Verify conformance with requirements from Annex A deemed applicable in your ISMS's Statement of Applicability
Share internal audit results, including nonconformities, with the ISMS governing body and senior management
Address identified issues before proceeding with the external audit
Undergo external audit of ISMS to obtain ISO 27001 certification
Engage an independent ISO 27001 auditor
Conduct Stage 1 Audit consisting of an extensive documentation review; obtain feedback regarding readiness to move to Stage 2 Audit
Conduct Stage 2 Audit consisting of tests performed on the ISMS to ensure proper design, implementation, and ongoing functionality; evaluate fairness, suitability, and effective implementation and operation of controls
Address any nonconformities
Ensure that all requirements of the ISO 27001 standard are being addressed
Ensure org is following processes that it has specified and documented
Ensure org is upholding contractual requirements with third parties
Address specific nonconformities identified by the ISO 27001 auditor
Receive auditor’s formal validation following resolution of nonconformities
Conduct regular management reviews
Plan reviews at least once per year; consider a quarterly review cycle
Ensure the ISMS and its objectives continue to remain appropriate and effective
Ensure that senior management remains informed
Ensure adjustments to address risks or deficiencies can be promptly implemented
Calendar ISO 27001 audit schedule and surveillance audit schedules
Perform a full ISO 27001 audit once every three years
Prepare to perform surveillance audits in the second and third years of the Certification Cycle
Consider streamlining ISO 27001 certification with automation
Transform manual data collection and observation processes into automated and continuous system monitoring
Identify and close any gaps in ISMS implementation in a timely manner
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Determine which annual audits and assessments are required for your company
Perform a readiness assessment and evaluate your security against HIPAA requirements
Review the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights Audit Protocol
Conduct required HIPAA compliance audits and assessments
Perform and document ongoing technical and non-technical evaluations, internally or in partnership with a third-party security and compliance team like Vanta
Document your plans and put them into action
Document every step of building, implementing, and assessing your compliance program
Vanta’s automated compliance reporting can streamline planning and documentation
Appoint a security and compliance point person in your company
Designate an employee as your HIPAA Compliance Officer
Schedule annual HIPAA training for all employees
Distribute HIPAA policies and procedures and ensure staff read and attest to their review
Document employee trainings and other compliance activities
Thoroughly document employee training processes, activities, and attestations
Establish and communicate clear breach report processes
to all employees
Ensure that staff understand what constitutes a HIPAA breach, and how to report a breach
Implement systems to track security incidents, and to document and report all breaches
Institute an annual review process
Annually assess compliance activities against theHIPAA Rules and updates to HIPAA
Continuously assess and manage risk
Build a year-round risk management program and integrate continuous monitoring
Understand the ins and outs of HIPAA compliance— and the costs of noncompliance
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